The BC Lions expect to regain key linebacker Solomon Elimimian and veteran kicker Paul McCallum for Thursday night’s home opener against the defending Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts.
The Lions (0-1) started poorly against the Stampeders in their opening round clash in Calgary on Friday, and although they managed to outscore the hosts in the second half, they still lost 44-32.
It was a frustrating game for Elimimian (ankle) to watch, and he admitted after Monday’s practice that one point he “was about to throw a couple of chairs.”
“It was definitely tough,” he said, before adding he was “expecting” to play in that game. “But that was last week and we have 17 more regular-season games to go.”
And that starts with a home date with the Argonauts (1-0), who fought back to overcome Hamilton 39-34 last week on the back of solid contributions from running back Chad Kackert (10 rushes for 112 yards and a touchdown) and wide receiver/kick returner Chad Owens.
Elimimian is looking forward to the challenge of stopping that pair, along with QB Ricky Ray, who went 24-34 for 368 yards and four touchdowns against the Ti-Cats.
“They have a great offence and a great offensive game,” the 26-year-old said. “I just think the big thing for us is just doing what we do, and that’s run to the ball and be physical and if we do that we’ll be fine.”
Lions head coach Mike Benevides was looking forward to having Elimimian back at his disposal on defence as his team looks to avoid falling into a 0-2 hole.
“The biggest thing that Solly brings to us is obviously that downhill mentality to defend the run,” he said. “It gives us a little bit of synergy that we had in training camp and it just gives us another run stopper that’s comfortable with `Biggie’ [LB Adam Bighill].”
Besides Elimimian, the Lions should also be boosted by the return of 43-year-old McCallum, after Benevides watched his punter go through the motions Monday.
“Paul did all the place kicking, he felt good, he did some punting and really showed some power,” Benevides said. “So it’s gonna be on him because he’s a pro and he’s been around a long time. But I really liked what I saw from his place kicking.
“He tells me he feels good, so I’m gonna make sure that he is entirely confident that he’s not feeling [the groin injury] any more and we’ll take a hard look at him.”
The news wasn’t as promising for Lions star centre Angus Reid (lower back), with Benevides saying he will still be evaluated on a weekly basis.
“Obviously, he’s getting better all the time,” the coach said of the 36-year-old.
“The thing with him is it’s gonna be a week-to-week thing and for him it’s about loading it, meaning he’s in the weight room doing squats, he’s practising and then the true tell-tale will be how sore he is the next day or two days after.”
With the 13-year pro still sidelined, snapping duties will once again fall to second-year player Matt Norman, who is being groomed as Reid’s eventual replacement on the offensive line.
The 25-year-old former guard struggled with the count in the loss to Calgary but said he had already put it behind him.
“I’ve looked at film, made some corrections and now I’m focusing on Toronto,” he said.
Norman doesn’t see Toronto’s visit as a tool for motivation, adding he maintains “the same level of intensity each week”.
“I don’t go up or down depending on who we’re playing,” he said. “I keep the same level of motivation and confidence for each game, to me it’s just another game.”
Despite his issues at centre, Norman had the full support of Lions QB Travis Lulay and Benevides as he makes the difficult transition.
“Those types of things happen, they do happen, and Matt doesn’t like it when they happen and it’s tough,” said Lulay, who completed 21 of 36 passes for 283 yards and a touchdown against the Stampeders.
“But it’s part of the process, you have to make mistakes to find out what you need to be better at so that’s something he’s obviously very conscious of. But Matt’s a pro, he’ll get those things ironed out and we’ll get better there.”
Benevides said Norman’s errors were more glaring than others because of his job hiking the ball to Lulay on each possession.
“You just have to grow with that a little bit, [but] when you look at the totality of the game, he played fine,” he said.
“Week to week he’s gonna get better and you have to also give him a chance to go through some of these learning curves.”
Notes: DE Julius Williams could make his first appearance in a Lions jersey on Thursday. Said Benevides: “He got some work on the weekend and we’re gonna take a hard look at that because if Julius can get in he’ll help us and that will give us a different type of rotation and a different type of player on the edge.”aThe Lions added import LB Yaser Elqutub to their practice roster Monday.